"The serial bomb blasts at three places in Uttar Pradesh demonstrate a change in the terror strategy," said Ajai Sahani, executive director of the Institute of Conflict Management, a nongovernmental think tank. "They are now targeting the judiciary because advocates (lawyers) are not ... taking up the cases of arrested militants."
At least 13 people, including four lawyers, were killed and 60 injured when six bombs went off in three court complexes in Uttar Pradesh in late November. Planted on bicycles parked outside the lawyers' chambers in Lucknow, Faizabad and Varanasi, the bombs were synchronized to explode shortly after 1:15 p.m. Indian intelligence and security agencies linked the blasts to Islamist terrorism.
The explosions assume significance as they have come in the wake of the judgments in the Mumbai serial bombings of March 1993 and the Coimbatore serial blasts of February 1998. In both cases, many terrorists were found guilty and sentenced to various terms of imprisonment.
The attacks also came after the arrest of three suspected members of the militant Jaish-e-Mohammed in Uttar Pradesh state. These suspects were alleged to have planned to kidnap a dignitary in order to secure the release of Mohammed Afzal, who has been sentenced to death for his role in the attack on Parliament in December 2001.
Investigators received an e-mail sent minutes after the serial court bombings in Uttar Pradesh. The message said the blasts were carried out because state police arrested innocent Muslims and framed them with fake charges. It said lawyers had assaulted those arrested. The message said its senders were not foreign mujahedin and didn't have links with foreign groups such as Lashkar-e-Toiba, Harkat-ul-Jihadi-Islami, which India regards as terrorist groups.
"This is not the war between two communities, but this is war for civilization. We want to empower the society from injustice, corruption etc., which is prevailing in the society nowadays. Only Islam has the power to establish a civilized society and this can be only possible in Islamic rule, which can be achieved by only one path, jihad," the e-mail said.
Investigating agencies are not ruling out the role of the banned Students Islamic Movement of India as similar language was used by the group at a convention in Mumbai in 2000.
The two Muslims, which the e-mail said were innocent, were arrested last month in connection with a plan to allegedly kidnap Rahul Gandhi, a ruling Congress Party lawmaker and son of former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi. Police said the two men were Pakistani nationals and members of Jaish-e-Mohammad.
Lawyers in the town of Faizabad, Uttar Pradesh state, denied five other suspected Jaish terrorists, alleged to have been involved in a 2005 attack, representation. Their counterparts in Varanasi refused to defend Mohammad Waliullah, a cleric charged with facilitating the 2006 bombings of the city railway station and the Sankat Mochan temple.
State intelligence agencies say the court complex bombings have provided new evidence of the resilience of Islamist networks in the state.
Last year, India's Supreme Court upheld the ban on SIMI and rejected its claim it was not involved in terrorism. Despite years of legal and police efforts to contain this Islamic students group, the government said it continued to expand its network to provide fresh recruits and logistical support to Islamist terror groups operating in India.
SIMI was banned in 2001. It, however, developed close ties with the Jamaat-e-Islami in Bangladesh, as well as its student wing, the Islami Chhatra Shibir. Many SIMI members later used those links to receive training from Harkat-ul-Jihad-e-Islami, a Bangladesh-based terror outfit.
"Several of SIMI's HUJI-trained cadre are believed to have participated in recent terror strikes in Uttar Pradesh," said a Lucknow-based intelligence official.